Russ Grayson

Ooooby - a new food enterprise for Sydney

Linking farmer and urban eater

(above) Contents of the Ooooby fruit box

We also ordered a small box of in-season fruit. And, were I into that sort of thing, this would have offered the opportunity for another unboxing ritual. As per the fruit box, my ritual was slicing the tape with the kitchen knife and peering inside.

The contents included:
bananas, certified organic, from B&J Laing of Middle Pocket; oblong-shaped purple plums, chemical-free, from Greg Brooke-Kelly of Young, NSW; Royal gala apples, chemical-free, from Roche Roberts of Adelong — this appears to be the same Roche Brothers from which Food Connect recently supplied large, juicy, tasty nectarines.
THERE's a new food business in town and it's called Ooooby — Out Of Our Own Backyards.

Ooooby is an adaptation of the CSA, the Community Supported Agriculture model that supplies urban eaters with foods grown by farmers in the greater city region and, sometimes, a little beyond that if that is the only source of the particular food. Some CSAs also supply a range of groceries such as breads, honey, jams and eggs that are from the region. Food Connect Sydney, for example — which was absorbed into Ooooby — and Ooooby itself, supply honey from the Urban Beehive (, honey produced in Sydney's suburbs.
Most CSA's supply organically-grown food, both certified organic (Australia has a national, Australian Standard covering the production and marketing of organic produce and there are a number of organic certification schemes) as well as uncertified organic usually marketed as 'chemical free').

Ooooby describes itself as a social business that seeks to make a profit that goes towards its social goal. In describing their business model, Ooooby mentions the Bangladeshi ex-academic and community banker, Mohammad Yunnus. Mohammad was a champion of social business and I recall attending his public lectured here in Sydney, and leaving inspired.

What's encouraging is Ooooby's delivering high returns to the farmers that supply the business. They claim a "static 50 percent" return on sales proceeds to the supplier though that may be less on those occasions they have to make up a shortfall in regionally-sourced foods by topping up from the wholesale market, as the wholesaler takes a cut.

Food Connect Sydney offered, from what I remember, around 40 percent. Thats lots more that the supermarket duopoly — what is sometimes called 'Colesworth' because the big two, Coles and Woolworths, control something around 80 percent of the Australian grocery market, making it the most concentrated market of its type in the world. They return, so I understand, only between five and ten percent of checkout sales to farmers.
Unboxing is a ritual enjoyed by technophiles. It's a candidate for one of those new words in the English language and it describes the process — and joy — that technophiles derive when unpacking a new mobile phone, tablet or, less commonly in these days of the mobile internet, laptop. Unboxing is something of a ritual. People make and post online videos of their own unboxings.

Unboxing is also a ritual enjoyed by those other than technophiles. People like those who subscribe to community supported agriculture schemes, for instance, schemes like the late Food Connect Sydney and, now, Ooooby.

When I operated the Food Connect Sydney, Randwick City Cousin (a City Cousin was the weekly collection point from which subscribers collected their food boxes; doing this could be something of a minor social event), I would watch people come in, select then open their food box to see what goodies were there this week. They did this with the anticipation of the technophile unpacking their new mobile phone. If there was something they weren't fond of they would exchange it for something in the swap box.

Unboxing, I now know, is a ritual that spans the full spectrum of interest from technophile to local organic food eater.
The internet and, more specifically, the development of online ordering and payment systems like Ooooby, and Food Connect Sydney before it, enable the development of social enterprise that make possible those shorter food supply-chain links to bring us fresher, certified or uncertified organic foods mainly from growers as close to the city as is available.

It's the experience of regional food system participants that you cannot obtain the range of foods to support a diverse, nutritionally sound diet from some arbitary figure like within 100km of a city. That's because those foods require different climatic and soil conditions to grow, not all of which exist that close to Sydney or to most other cities. Bananas, for example, are grown by home and community gardeners in Sydney but are not suited to commercial cultivation in the region, even on western Sydney's good clay soils. To specify a figure like 100km or any other arbitrary distance is to see food miles as a major factor in sustainable food systems. It's not, but how the food is grown is.

So, my impression, judging from this, Ooooby's first box? It looks good and if Ooooby can keep up the quality and quantity, and source as much as they can from the wider Sydney region, then I think they will retain the confidence of their subscribers (the wider Sydney region I define as around five or so hours delivery drive from Sydney, depending on the particular food, and based on Food Connect experience).

Here's hoping that Ooooby plays an increasing role in developing regional food economies by delivering tasty, good, fresh foods to its city eater/subscribers and in supporting our farmers by returning that 50 percent value on sales back to them.
(below) Ooooby places information sheets into their vegetable and fruit boxes identifying the farmer and where they farm, the organic status of the food and recipes.
(above) The Ooooby vegetable box

I'm not one for unboxing rituals, so I unceremonially sliced the tape sealing the box with a kitchen knife. Folding back the lid I was confronted by a large green, curly-leafed thing on one side and a large cos lettuce on the other with half a cabbage between them. On top sat a page listing the box's contents and offering a recipe to make buttermilk dill cucumber salad and baked kale chips.

The latter — baked kale chips — I had been told about by Food Connect subscribers seeking new uses for their plentiful, in season supply of kale, (some said they had been kaled-out there had been so much of it) but as someone of severely limited cooking skills I had not dared to try it. Now, thanks to Ooooby, I have a recipe.

The good thing Ooooby does is list the provinence of the vegetables and fruit they supply — the grower and where their farm is located and the organic status (certified organic or 'chemical-free', meaning uncertified organic), on the information sheet that comes with every box.

There was more to the box than curly-leaf kale, cabbage and cos lettuce, as I found when I started to unpack it. Hidden and protected below the leafy greens was a range of veges.

Here's the list, keeping in mind ours was the small box (larger are available):
pear tomato x 11 (that's a good supply for someone like me who eats lots of tomato; I still haven't finished the tiny cherry tomatoes from our last Food Connect delivery); corn on cob x 2; curly leaf kale, a large parcel x 1; cabbage x 0.5; green capsicum x 2, medium size; sweet potato x 2 of twisted, convoluted shape but tasty-looking; red onion x 2 (good for our salads with the cos lettuce, tomato, Lebanese cucumber and capsicum sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil with fetta or parmesan cheese or fried haloumi); eggplant x 2, one large, one small; Lebanese cucumber x 3.

The variety and quantity of veges in the small box will be plenty for the two of us and will likely last beyond the week. I haven't tasted any yet, but by appearance the veges look to be good quality and none were overripe or soft. The leafy greens were firm rather than wilting, the cucumbers look crisp (thus good to dip in chilli sauce as a snack), as are the capsicum.